After a long, windy, bumpy and all-round arduous overnight bus ride from Dharamsala, we eventually arrived in Manali. We were dropped off on the side of the road, and immediately hounded by taxi drivers eager to take us to wherever we wanted to go. It was 6am, and we had mistakenly booked our hotel room for the night before – a mistake which we were quite happy with at this point as we were able to head straight to our hotel, and check in.
Over the next week we took life slow in the gorgeous little mountain town of Vashist. Our hotel balcony had a stunning view of the Beas valley, with the Beas river running through the middle, and we spent much of the time just enjoying the scenery – here and around the town.
Vashist is known for its hot springs, which draws Indian tourists from all over the country to bathe in it’s super-hot waters. These are not your ordinary hot springs – nice and warm, pleasant. Nope, these are steaming hot! It took me a good 5 minutes to get my whole body into the water, and then I found myself staying as still as possible so my body could cool the water around it and make the heat more bearable. I felt pretty great afterward though, and vowed to go back but unfortunately I never did make it back there. Joey’s experience on the other hand wasn’t so pleasant. The water in the ladies baths was luke warm and had many unknowns floating in the water. It was also filled with children and families, splashing about with all eyes on the white westerner. Definitely not the relaxing experience she had hoped for.
There’s also a lovely waterfall not far from the town, which made for a great afternoon walking out in nature.
We did a cooking class in Vashist, which we both enjoyed thoroughly. We spent about 4 hours there, just the 2 of us and a lovely old lady who taught us how to make 4 delicious vegetarian dishes, plus an Indian dessert called Kheer (which has become our favourite), 2 different types of bread and of course chai. Pretty great value for just AU$20 each!
After a few days in Vashist, we were ready for a change of scenery. So we hired a motorbike and rode to the Parvati Valley. Known for it’s production of high-quality hash, this region is the only place in the world where we’ve seen marijuana growing the way it was supposed to – like a weed. It’s everywhere. If you’re walking down a path, you’ll see it alongside the path. If you stop your bike on the side of the road, you’ll see it there too. It’s no wonder this area is so good at harvesting and producing hash out of it.
We stayed in Kasol, a hippie town from way back that has now been overrun with Israelis and Indian tourists. It’s a scruffy town, with some decent (but not amazing) cafes, and tons of rubbish everywhere. It’s a pity, as it’s really beautiful with the hills of the valley on either side. We went on some nice walks to surrounding towns in the valley (accessible only by foot), and again took life slow.
We rode to the end of the main road, to a town called Manikaran. Here we found a lovely temple with hot springs inside, right on the river. There was a lot more Indian culture here, and we found ourselves wishing we’d spent more time there instead of Kasol, but still it was nice to spend a few hours there.
After returning to Vashist, we returned our bike and moved to Old Manali – a backpacker enclave just north of Manali town. Again, this area is overrun with Israelis and backpacker hangouts. We didn’t love it there, but made the most of our last few days in the region by eating lots of good food, walking around a lot, and just enjoying the cool mountain air. Since we weren’t able to head north to Kashmir (too late in the season), we knew that our time in the mountains was coming to an end, so tried to make the most of the cool weather while we had it.
We rented a bike again, and rode up to the top of Rohtang Pass which forms the first leg of the ride up to Leh in Kashmir, and the Spiti Valley. Both of these are rides we’d love to do, but the timing wasn’t quite right so we had to settle for this instead. The pass is only open for a couple of months a year – outside of these opening times it snows over and becomes completely inaccessible. At the start of the season, road workers return with GPS to find the road again, and dig it out for the next season.
Topping out at 4,000m above sea level, the pass was a stunning introduction to the higher Himalayas, and inspired us to return one day and explore the region in more detail.